Violence in Basel – immigration’s fault?

Every foreigner whom I have spoken to thinks Switzerland is one of the safest spots on our planet. Basel, Switzerland’s third largest city after Zurich and Geneva, is included in that perception. Many expats who live there are thrilled by the possibility of letting their kids go to school on their own. That’s different in most other cities in this world.

Some Swiss (hopefully a minority) living in Basel, however, think otherwise. The recent drama in Cologne has sparked a renewed debate on the supposed danger of immigrants from other cultures, especially from the Middle East or North Africa. I remember well the same debate and opinions during my childhood, when Basel took in a lot of immigrants from Eastern Europe, who fled the wars in Bosnia and later Kosovo. Today, these people are well integrated and are part of the society in Basel.

More violence in Basel

To answer the question, whether Basel has become more dangerous, I obtained data on crimes and population from the city’s statistics bureau. Indeed, Basel is more dangerous today than it was about 30 years ago. In 1983, there were 233 acts of violence per 100,000 inhabitants (‘Gewalttaten’), which include atrocities such as murders, assaults, robberies, extortion, kidnappings, hostage-takings (the last one seems to have been in 2001), rapes, and arson. A peak was reached in 2011 with 593 acts of violence per 100,000 inhabitants, which included a total of 19 murders. Violence has since been falling sharply, to 462 acts of violence per 100,000 inhabitants in 2014. Still, as the graph shows, a general trend of increasing violence in Basel can be observed.

Violent Acts Basel 1983-2014

There could be various reasons for this general increase in violence seen in Basel. My intention is to discuss the reason some Swiss are giving, that immigration by refugees is a key driver behind this increase. Immigration numbers per se are unhelpful, since it includes large numbers from culturally similar countries, most prominently Germany. The best indicator that is publicly available are statistics on asylum application from the federal statistics department BFS; unfortunately, these numbers exist only for Switzerland as a whole and only date back to 1995. Still, they provide us with an interesting picture.

Recent fall despite immigration wave

During the Kosovo war in 1998-1999, when Switzerland saw the most asylum applications per year ever, violence did increase sharply. Over the next 12 years, violence in Basel moved very much in line with nation-wide asylum applications (Basel usually takes a large share, as does Geneva). Interestingly, however, during the Bosnian war (for which no asylum data is available), violence dropped. Also did violence drop during the Syrian war, at least until 2014, despite an increase in asylum numbers.

Basel did become more violent. Is it due to the refugees, as some people claim, probably not exclusively. Especially the recent few years show that violence can decrease despite immigration. As soon as 2015 data are available, recent arguments can be proved or disproved even better, I’ll keep you posted.

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